News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Top Energy CEO Eyes Rooftop Solar As Threat, Opportunity

A threat to utility companies? | Photo: Bernd/Flickr/Creative Commons License

We've often said here at ReWire that rooftop solar is a technology that's inherently destabilizing to utility companies, in much the same way that MP3 encoding and similar technologies have destabilized the big corporations in the recording industry. And now the head of America's largest utility company is backing that up.

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Bloomberg reported February 28 that Jim Rogers, CEO of North Carolina-based Duke Energy, told a meeting of industry analysts that his firm is examining how best to handle the "threat" from increasingly accessible rooftop solar generation. After the meeting, Rogers told Bloomberg's Jim Polson that rooftop threatened to make companies like his the energy providers of last resort:

"[Rooftop solar] is obviously a potential threat to us over the long term and an opportunity in the short term. If the cost of solar panels keeps coming down, installation costs come down and if they combine solar with battery technology and a power management system, then we have someone just using us for backup."

How will Duke respond to this threat to its business model? According to the company's Chief Financial Officer Jan Good, they're not sure. "Our thinking hasn't matured to the point that we're actively pursuing anything," Good told Bloomberg.

One possibility would be for the giant energy services company, with 7.1 million ratepayers in the U.S., to find some way to make money from rooftop solar either through sales or leasing.

However the company approaches the rooftop issue, it and its competitors in the field will have to do something. Rogers characterized growth in the traditional energy sector as "anemic" during the February 28 meeting due to competition from ever-cheapening solar PV, and that competition is unlikely to slacken. Chinese solar panel manufacturer Yingli announced this week that it expects to ship as much as 3.3 gigawatts' worth of PV cells in 2013, despite fourth quarter losses in 2012 that were about twice those projected. For the time being, PV is just going to keep getting cheaper.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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